The True Cost of Fashion

11h14 - 04 december 2017 / 0 comments

More than 2 billion people form the ‘global consumer class’, and that number is poised to grow exponentially as the developing world continues to lift millions of people out of poverty.

The global clothing market accounts for millions of jobs in the developing world - in particular the ‘fast fashion’ industry which has left a visible mark in several Asian countries such as China, India and Bangladesh.

The phrase ‘fast fashion’ refers to wildly popular low-cost clothing collections that mimic current luxury fashion trends. This includes retailers such as Zara, H&M and even Uniqlo. Fast fashion allows consumers (especially young ones in the developed world) to satisfy their desire for luxury fashions that would otherwise be unaffordable. But fast fashion is environmentally unsustainable. Trends in the fashion world run their course with lightning speed, as today’s latest styles which replaced yesterday’s, have already been consigned to the rubbish bin. For example, Americans are purchasing five times the amount of clothing than they did in 1980. The United States imports more than 1 billion garments annually from China alone, and the United Kingdom’s textile consumption surged by 37% from 2001 to 2005. Replacing a portion of your wardrobe - however small - every weekend has implications for the environment.

The clothing industry is the second largest polluter in the world - second only to oil. Consider cotton or indeed even organic cotton in the garments available from your local fast fashion retailer: it can take up to 19,000 liters of water to manufacture a t-shirt and a pair of jeans. Synthetic, man-made fibers, while not as water-intensive, often have issues with manufacturing pollution and sustainability. And across all textiles, the manufacturing and dyeing of fabrics is chemically intensive, often polluting the natural ecosystems in which factories are located.

The industry is also a key greenhouse gas polluter. Globalization means that garments are likely to travel halfway across the world in a container ship that runs on some of the dirtiest fossil fuels. On top of this, a significant portion of textiles end up in landfills worldwide. As a whole, the textile industry occupies roughly 5% of total global landfill area. This is highly problematic as the clothing discarded into landfills, often made from synthetic or inorganic materials, is not able to degrade properly.

Creating extreme demand for cheap and disposable clothes is not an environmentally sustainable practice yet its popularity with consumers, many of whom share a concern for environmental issues, demonstrates that awareness of the industry’s true costs desperately needs to be spread. Clothes continue to impact the environment after their purchase and cause more harm to the planet than consumers realize.